Writing about the Literary Elements of Film

Writing about Theme

What is a theme?

According to A Handbook to Literature, a theme is "the central or dominating idea in a literary work" (Holman 443). Sylvan Barnet defines theme as the "underlying idea of a work." However, these definitions proved somewhat inadequate. It's true that a theme is an idea that underlies the story, but any work can be about more than one thing, so any can have more than one theme.

Therefore, writing about theme is simply identifying what the film is about. The supporting paragraphs for this type of essay will discuss how the details of the film help create this theme. In some ways, because most writing about film, whatever the approach, leads to a discussion of the underlying ideas of the film, all film analysis is in some way writing about theme.

Sample Paper: The Four Hundred Blows

Writing about Character

Characters are the people who populate a fictional story. All narrative film features characters. Even those films set in the animal world imbue the animals with human characteristics.

There are several types of characters in any film.

  • Round vs. flat--Round characters have at least some degree of psychological complexity. Flat characters lack psychological complexity and maybe distinguishable by only a single trait or two.
  • Dynamic vs. static--Dynamic characters change over the course of the story. This change is internal and not just a change in circumstances. Static characters remain the same throughout the story.

When beginning a character sketch, it's important to note five points:

      1. What the person says
      2. What the person does
      3. What others say about the person
      4. What others do in relation to the person
      5. What the person looks like

The next step in a character sketch is to sythesize this information. When you put these five points together, what overall impression do you get about the character? This impression can form the basis of your thesis statement.

You may also want to consider how the character functions in the film, the relationship between the character and the structure of the story, how the character is depicted visually in the mise en scene, or how the character fits in with the larger theme of the film. Any one of these can provide the basis for an essay on character.

Sample Paper: Rear Window